Change the Paradigm: What Makes a Skilled Teacher?

I am a firm believer that teaching itself is a skill. Sure, being a content expert is important, but you have to be a kid expert, a human expert also. This is an entirely different set of skills than knowing your content. Don’t get me wrong, teachers must know the content they teach, but just as important is knowing how to make that content come alive for the students they teach.

Those of us in education, or even parents who have seen the magic of a great teacher, know that it is just that –magic. It is an art and a science all in one. For some people, it is natural, but for many it can be nurtured and taught through the process of education and skilled mentoring. Deborah Ball hits the nail on the head in this speech when she states that we in the field cannot state that it’s just what we do…. we have to acknowledge that it is something that can be multiplied and taught in others.

We have to begin to speak this language of accomplished teaching from the time pre-education majors (if you will) enter the field, so that as a profession we begin to meld together as a profession. We have to begin to work together as ONE: university professors, undergraduates, teachers, administrators, and district officials. All of us must come together with a common language, a common goal, and a common understanding.

That must be that teaching is highly complex and it takes all of us working together with common vocabulary and intentions for the good of all our children to make the future stronger than the past and the present.

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What Do Trash Cans Have to Do with Teaching?

This week I am humbled to be part of a group of accomplished educators in this historic NBCTsonthehill event. Together eighteen of us from all over the country have been brought together to help Ron Thorpe and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards move forward with their vision of making National Board Certification the norm for educators.

In the words of the CEO of NBPTS, Ron Thorpe, we can’t become a true profession by saying, I’m good. Trust me. We need to prove it. To this I have to say I agree; in every other aspect of our teaching lives we use evidence.

Ramona Lowe likens teachers to the surgeon who calms a nervous patient telling him not to worry because he is too good of a surgeon for him to die. Well, we should all be too good of teachers for our students to fail….or have anything less than success!

Those of us in education know that we must have relationships with our students. First and foremost before we can teach them or have a well-managed classroom it’s about the relationships we make. Knowing this, Siema Swartzel had her students create the trash can band kids. They created music in a way that was meaningful to them, and as a result of building this rapport, she saw huge gains in some of her toughest students.

Principals Mary Harris and Kiela Sneider have both created an amazing culture in their schools through National Board Certified Teachers. In Mary’s case, establishing the culture of accomplished teaching. Kiela used the reflective nature of the National Board process to naturally improve a high needs school. The turn-around in student progress is quite impressive, and even once she moved on from that school, the results remain.

We want this culture of accomplished teachers. Lisa Markussen agrees that having this high concentration of NBCTs creates this collaborative culture. In contrast to medicine, says Rhonda Blankenship, most teachers are still working in isolation. Jeffrey Wright sums it up well; in medicine students are taught by board certified doctors. That’s not the case in teaching.

More Web 2.0 and Apps

 Victor Svensson Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


Victor Svensson
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

There was so much to say about teaching using the web that my first blog post didn’t come close to covering it. So here are some more of my favorite resources.

Blendspace makes it so much easier for teachers to collaborate. Drag and drop ideas, documents, Promethean flipcharts, YouTube videos, Educreations, Flickr pictures, Google Drive, Dropbox, PDFs, and more into the timeline. It’s organized for multiple users so that the entire team can work on the project. Makes life so much easier. And as busy educators, this is what we need!

Users create three-dimensional pop-up books with ZooBurst. Don’t let the fact that these are pop-up books hold you back from using them with older students. These could easily be used with intermediate and middle school students to create advanced content. They are so interesting to create that even this age will be intrigued!

Educreations and Show Me are both apps. Educreations has a bit more functionality for older elementary while Show Me is more for the younger student. This is basically a white board on the iPad that students create on or voice record. At my school they use it for math and content areas to explain their learning. It is perfect for delving deep into content.

Cel.ly With this web 2.0 you can send students or parents a text while keeping your phone number private. You can moderate the group message with one or more curator. Very cool!

With ScreenCastomatic you can create a video of your computer screen and your voice. It can be uploaded to a blog or YouTube or Vimeo. You get 15 minutes free on each video. Then you have to pay.

Sock Puppets is an App that allows students to create puppet shows. They can create voice overs, backgrounds, etc. Using their imaginations they could retell a story or go deeper to do inferences or tell a sequel or you name it! The sky is the limit!

National Board Certification for the Masses: What Would that Look Like?

Imagine a teaching force of accomplished educators who are reflective about their practice, knowledgeable about the content they teach and how best to teach it to their students, and willing to look deeply at themselves through data and videos to improve their craft. Current research done in several states tells us that the students in National Board Certified Teachers’ classrooms gain an average of one month’s ELA instruction and two months’ math instruction over a year’s time compared to the students in non-NBCT’s classrooms. One study was done in LA Unified. Another was done in Gwinnett County, Georgia. There is also research on the positive gains of students in the classrooms of NBCTs of low-income and minority students.

So what would it look like if from the time every undergraduate began an education program, the Five Core Propositions of National Board became part of the language –if from the beginning it was understood that the end result was that educators needed this Board Certification. If we were talking about being accomplished teachers from the start of our programs and learning that this would be the end result –that the highest achievement that a teacher can achieve–NBCT– was the expectation, much like it is for a doctor, could we build an even stronger profession in the way the medical profession has?

For many teachers reflection comes naturally. These teachers go back at the end of the day and ask themselves what went well and what could go better. They figure out why they didn’t get through to that one student who was taught that lesson in three different ways and still didn’t grasp the concept. Those are the teachers who take responsibility when students don’t understand. These are the teachers who understand that good classroom management starts with good relationships. But what about those who aren’t as reflective? For those of us who went through the National Board process, consider what seeing ourselves on video for the first time did for our practice. What would that do for education overall if every teacher went through this process?

A nation of reflective, accomplished practitioners; stronger teacher-student relationships; better student engagement; and therefore a more professional profession? Could National Board Certification be one way to strengthen our profession?

The Medical Model: What Can Educators Learn from It?

A historic event in the world of education is about to happen: for the first time in history a group of educators will engage in a conversation with physicians to look at the parallels in these two professions. These groups will talk to see what we can learn from one another. What most people may not realize is that until 1910 and the publication of the Flexner Report and then with the concept of medical residency programs becoming the norm, medicine was not much of a profession –not like it is today. But since that time, I think we will all agree that the medical profession has gotten it right! They have come together, trained physicians, organized residencies where after intense schooling, they go through professional mentoring programs for three to seven additional years. From the beginning of their schooling, doctors begin preparing for medical boards.

What can we as educators learn from all this? EVERYTHING! By streamlining education preparation programs, we can better prepare future teachers. Once teachers complete university programs and student teaching, they need residency schools –much like doctors enter residency hospitals. Consider what your first year of teaching was like. Most of us had informal mentoring programs at best; this is causing a huge teacher-turn-over rate. In residency schools first-year teachers can be mentored by the most accomplished of teachers who will already work there. By valuing these accomplished teachers and teacher leaders, we can elevate our profession to just that –a true profession.

This change will take some time, but it needs to happen. We must build a great profession for our children. Board certification and residency can become the norm for education. It will begin with one conversation: between some educators and some doctors. Where will it go from there?

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